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Could we create a collaborative online ebook that talks about the important physics concepts covered that is normally covered in school?

My normal learning routine has been:

  • Read the textbook
  • Hope for good explanation on Wikipedia
  • Search physics.stackexchange for a really good explanation

The problem with wikipedia is that it is a good reference but not good and helping me understand the concepts.

For example, I am learning about Helmholtz free energy; my book and wikipedia did no contribution on helping me.

My dream would be to have a collaborative explanation of physics concepts. The goal would not be reference, but bridging the gap between knowledge and understanding.

Also, there are a hundred posts on here asking for book references. We could fix the book reference question by having each major idea in physics highlighted with a tutorial explaining it and a list of book references on the topic.

It would also be amazing if each concept had a list of prerequisite concepts, and optional concepts that would greatly contribute towards wrapping the mind around the content.

Summary:

  • Create a tutorial object that can contain text & graphics with the intent to explain important physics concepts.
  • Create a recommended reading list of books to each tutorial object.
  • Create a required concept list for each tutorial object.
  • Create a recommended concept list for each tutorial object.

What do you guys think?

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  • $\begingroup$ Somewhat related: physics.meta.stackexchange.com/q/9654 $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 23 '18 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ Im not actually trying to make an ebook, or collect stack exchange answers. I want Wikipedia but with stack exchange explanations. $\endgroup$ – Tsangares Feb 23 '18 at 20:56
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    $\begingroup$ Wait, then aren't you just describing the tag wiki's that already exist? Like this one for example? $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 23 '18 at 20:59
  • $\begingroup$ @tpg2114 Nope, but those are helpful. Seems like my idea did not come across well. Its all good. I am not settling on the fact that what we have is enough. I am convinced that this computer can be a better utility at teaching me than my school; but in its current state it is not. The stack community seems the closest to the ability of producing information that is more valuable than a brick and mortar institution. $\endgroup$ – Tsangares Feb 25 '18 at 1:59
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    $\begingroup$ The community on this site may well be the closest in ability to producing the material you have in mind, but the software tools we have available are a terrible fit for what you're proposing. If you're asking for SE to write new software to expand the scope, then good luck convincing them to change direction! $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 25 '18 at 11:56
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So, this is basically how you write a modular textbook.

And a lot of people have worked on a lot of versions of it over the years, and there are some challenges that you've glossed over. For instance:

  • To be maximally useful it should use a consistent notation throughout, or at least in large and cohesive sections, but that works against modularity.
  • Modularity comes at the cost of narrative integrity.
  • It should have a good set of exercises and include at least a little advice on learning to solve them.
  • It should come with some guidance on larger-scale routes through the thicket.

So the question becomes "Why would Stack Exchange be the right platform for this endeavor?"


As an aside I have been working on a set of modular notes for a while now. Mine are mostly targeted at the upper-division and early grad school level, but I have a few for the introductory course, as well. This is a fun thing to do, but it is also surprisingly demanding; and if viewed in terms like "I want to teach all of physics" it is a dauntingly huge task.

The notation thing is a bigger problem than it sounds at first. But when I wanted to start giving these notes to students I realized that I had used several different notations to discuss topics in quantum mechanics that I wanted to address during my (one semester) Modern Physics class. I had done that because—from the view-point of someone who was already familiar with those diverse notational conventions—each paper was written in the clearest and most economical way. But for a single course intended for students just starting, that was a problem.

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  • $\begingroup$ First, where can I access these notes you mention? $\endgroup$ – Tsangares Feb 25 '18 at 2:00
  • $\begingroup$ Second, Why would Stack Exchange be the right platform for this endeavor? Its not the platform I want, its the users. This website has the best content because the people on it are so willing to look for great analogies and explanations. This community could have broader goals than just questions and answers. I wish it could not just aid but direct my learning, $\endgroup$ – Tsangares Feb 25 '18 at 2:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Tsangares I think you're overlooking something here. One of the reasons that you often get such detailed answers here is because we try to make sure the questions are focused on a concept. Although the users here are good; that's not to say they would be as helpful in giving direction. The key driver of this site is that you answer the specific question, leading to a greater knowledge base. If there's something you would like to see SE answers to; make sure it's on topic and ask it here. But just because we're good at explaining concepts; doesn't mean we can direct your learning well... $\endgroup$ – JMac Feb 25 '18 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsangares They're on my hard-drive. I've toyed with the idea of using some kind of multi-target type-setting system so I could have a web version as well as LaTeX, but I've never gotten around to it. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 26 '18 at 22:48
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee webpages can use latex. Using mathjax $\endgroup$ – Tsangares Feb 27 '18 at 16:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsangares LaTeX does a lot more for me than mere math. I know that I could rebuild this stuff in other formats, but it take time. And writing them at all is what I do with my very rare "spare" professional time. $\endgroup$ – dmckee Feb 27 '18 at 16:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Tsangares MathJax is not LaTeX, it's just a way of typesetting math in web pages that happens to allow similar syntax to LaTeX. In many cases, the distinction between MathJax and LaTeX mathematical notation doesn't matter, but it typically does matter when you try to convert documents entirely from one format to the other. $\endgroup$ – David Z Feb 27 '18 at 19:08

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